Art is a language. Art can be used as expression and communication. Arts teach innovation, creativity and philosophy. To speak this language we need to be exposed to Art’s tools-materials, positive instruction, and techniques. We should be nurtured, positively guided through our experience and listen to each other’s expression as a form of cross-cultural communication. The tools of Art are scarcely provided where I live in East Oakland and when they are it is far too infrequent. Oakland’s Cultural Arts and Marketing Department, Oakland Parks & Recreation, Youth Upraising and East Oakland Youth Development Center, East Side Arts Alliance and Community Rejuvenation Project do offer some means to provide Arts but this funding and programming is hard to receive, ALWAYS at jeopardy, and pits Art’s workers against each other. All of this work is amazing, but we need to support neighborhoods that are operating in economic depravity, desperation and isolation from support of the well tax-funded communities. It is on this premise I’d like to speak in relation to the Arts community:
My friend’s story.
My friend (and mother of two) was telling me how she was pistol whipped the other day; it fractured her skull. She lives about 5 blocks from me in between 35th and Fruitvale. She said wasn’t scared, her son is a survivor of gun violence. OPD said they were going to catch whoever did this and put them in jail for life-she didn’t want that. She doesn’t want to isolate her community.
We needed to change something. Oakland needs more compassion, opportunity, and more investment in ALL of our community. We need to have a city where programming is seen as value, opportunity and community has options besides criminal activity and policing.
Institutional Neglect towards the Youth.
It is hard for me to prove the direct comparison between lack of Arts and our community disparity because easily available current public not updated properly. The most accurate depiction of Oakland Street Violence (taken back in 2008 by SF Gate) is a map of homicides in neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are also lowscoring in the Academic Performance Index (2009) charting Oakland Public School student aptitude effectively removing Arts programming from the school because it is not seen as an essential Core Academic Subject.
Without integrated community Art and Cultural programming in a public setting Art’s are secluded from certain communities.
Young Graffiti Artists in neighborhoods that offer minimal art programs are considered criminals for expression with a spray-can. South of Fruitvale there is no access to art stores for drawing books, only hardware stores with sharpies and spray cans. Representatives from Oakland’s Public Works Agency and graffiti abatement have stated an interest in working with Oakland’s “unsanctioned” painters because murals and integrated community artworks reduce vandalism. Meanwhile Public Employees are tracking graffiti work to chase “GANGS” in neighborhoods and then criminalize painters who associate with gangs with all of the crimes of that vandalism crew. These terms are not only marginalizing but result in increased hostility from all parties. If one were to look closer at graffiti, one would see its life changing aspects. I have had youth interns say to me, “graffiti saved my life from street violence”. It is essential that we support avenues for this form of popular expression. Some of the greatest artists of today are graffiti artists showcased and collected by major International Arts Institutions and holding spectacular events attended by community. I’d like to see integrated community conversations held to provide alternatives.
In addition, our community has a large amount of people who are deemed “illegal”, many of whom are artists who are not allowed to participate in their expression on a legitimate professional level. Often times, people have had no choice but to come to this country as youth, with families seeking political and or economic asylum. I encourage our governing bodies to lift restrictions on citizenship and to embrace our cultural community at large. We cannot continue to isolate people and expect justice peace and equality in our society.
Oakland and can be seen in the International arena with the Scraper Bikes, Oakland’s famous venues, thriving Galleries, cultural events, Hip Hop celebrities, and Turf Dancing sensations. These local Arts gain International notoriety. Arts and Culture are Oakland’s most important asset and an answer to injustice.
Arts in Oakland are essential for community and expression. We need to make strides to nurture instead of marginalize our biggest assets Culture and Arts.
I’m an artist, teacher, non-profit community worker at ACE Arts and a Directing Member of Rock Paper Scissors Collective. I have worked teaching mural painting, Sewing and Textiles, Drawing, Clay, and Woodworking, techniques in underserved communities and with assistance from a number of established Arts Organizations. I have received a number of public commissions to facilitate integrated community artwork, which can be found around the greater Bay area. My facilitation has been recognized by local and national media sources. I am very passionate about Art’s accessibility to all as an essential tool for a stable and sustainable future.
Don’t miss Reframing the Arts : Advocating for the Public Culture at Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) on Saturday, April 16! Register here.